Carl Hession is held to be one of the finest accompanists, arrangers and composers in Irish music; a veteran of Moving Cloud and a number of bands with Frankie Gavin. Concertina player Francis Cunningham and harpist Eimear Coughlan are both making their recording debuts on Úrnua in this distinguished company. Also appearing are violinist Bogden Sofei, cellist Sharon Howley and percussionist Jim Higgins. It’s a tribute to Carl’s skills as a producer that Eimear’s harp shines so brightly in the mix.
If I were a talented session player I’d be all over this album like a cheap suit. There are forty tunes here, spread over eighteen tracks – some sound deceptively simple and others definitely are not. The majority are written in the Irish traditional style: reels and jigs with a set of slip jigs and another of polkas plus slow reels, a march and a couple of waltzes.
Sadly, I’m not a player and here’s my problem. I’m not a fan of the piano in folk music although I appreciate its use as a continuo in Celtic music. To his credit, Carl doesn’t try to dominate the other players but provides a firm basis for the melodies, enriching the sound while allowing space for the harp and concertina. Secondly; can a tune be traditional if it’s only just been written? Inevitably, some of these tunes will be adopted into the tradition and welcomed simply because they are good tunes but their origins will always be documented. Is that also the case with the majority of Irish instrumental music?
Because of the above my favourite tracks are those which don’t quite fit the traditional mould. ‘Celtic Storm’ is listed as an adagio and classical gigue and ‘Minuet/Sprightly Spring’ is a paring of a minuet and a waltz while ‘Inishbofin’ is a delightfully mournful slow air. The playing is never less than exemplary and, despite myself, my foot was definitely tapping by the end.
‘Sporting Galway/The White Plains/Threadneedle Reel’: